Feed Me

Non-computer people often ask me questions like:

  • "Why do I need a separate program to read PDFs?"

  • "Why can't I publish directly from my word processor to my blog?"

  • "Why can't I edit video in Photoshop?"

These tend to be the same people who ask things like:

  • "Why can't all the oil companies get together to develop wind/wave/nuclear power?"

  • "Why can't everyone just join my church and bring peace to the world?"

  • "Why can't the newspapers tell us the truth?"

In other words:

  • "Why don't politicians fight against the corruption which benefits them?"

  • "Why don't all the capitalists meet up to replace capitalism with something more sensible?"

  • "Why can't we just redesign the whole world from the ground up?"

I tend to treat questions like these on a par with:

  • "Why can't my car also be a washing machine?"

  • "Why doesn't someone invent a time machine to go into the future and bring back a time machine?"

  • "Why can't my computer telepathically know what I want and just do it?"

People accept that, when they want to do something, the technology they have available has an effect on how they do it. If you want to make a fried-egg-on-toast, the toaster can't cook the egg, and won't butter the toast for you. No one thinks this is outrageous or bad design.

But they seem to think computers are exempt from this rule - that software should be written to exactly match their personal ideal way of working. So I've learned to ignore complaints that a video player won't recognise every single video format ever invented, or the mail reader doesn't have exactly the same buttons as the browser.

Except today...I tried RSS! Or rather tried it for the third time and finally got it to work properly.

RSS - Really Simple Syndication - a way to get you notified of updates to blogs and newsfeeds, without you having to go to each blog and newsfeed to check.

Or, if you've got a smart email reader like Thunderbird, a protocol to get new posts on blogs you follow posted essentially as emails. Without having to check the blog site itself.

Oh, and to my particular delight, it works for Twitter too. So now I can follow and manage tweets in a simple, sensible way, instead of logging on to Twitter and scrolling through several pages of jumbled updates.

Now I can actually keep up with the blogs I'm supposed to be keeping up with. And now I have an answer to the computer question:

  • "Why do I need separate programs to read blogs and email?

Update: Okay, actually the NewsFox (as opposed to Fox News) Firefox plugin is easier to use. And I only had to try three other plugins first to find it.


  1. Ignorance just means they don't know any better. Informed doesn't mean they're any smarter.

    I'm waiting for technology that'll help me do laundry without ending up with an extra sock. Assuming the machines haven't killed off humanity by then, of course.

  2. Oh you get an extra sock? I was wondering where mine went to :-).

  3. Ah, the answer to the extra/spare/unique sock question is the problem humanity needs solved. The man hours lost in its pursuit are truly frightening.